“You’re traveling through another history, a history not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead — your next stop, Alternate History X.”
Michael Roffman (MR): In 1996, Weezer followed up its 1994 self-titled debut with what many argue to be a far superior album: Pinkerton. Although it’s now hailed as the band’s crowning, emotional opus, the album initially fell way below expectations, both commercially and critically. I’ve always been baffled by this, considering that so much of the album pairs up with the blue tracks. Couple “Getchoo” and “Why Bother?” next to “My Name is Jonas” and “In the Garage” and you’d swear they were of the same kin. Of course, they were, but you get the point.
Regardless, what happened happened: The album was a disappointment upon release, sinking Rivers Cuomo into a weighty depression, which eventually led to bassist Matt Sharp’s departure, and a weird, unnecessary schism between fans. But let’s suppose none of that happened. What if Pinkerton became the immediate classic it is today? What would Weezer have been? What opportunities might they have missed? How would that success have affected Cuomo’s songwriting for future albums? Do you think Sharp would have bailed?
Let’s visit this alternate history, eh?
Justin Gerber (JG): There is little doubt that Cuomo’s content, musically and lyrically, would have gone down a completely different trajectory. I don’t believe there would have been such a lengthy break in between albums (five years passed between Pinkerton and “The Green Album”). Instead of retreating into a land of isolation, as Cuomo did post-Pinkerton, he would have been as prolific then as he was throughout aughts. He’d have felt encouraged by the reaction of the buying public, who would have embraced him for wearing his heart on his sleeve and going dark. Instead, “The Green Album” is what we received in 2001: a response to the rejection Cuomo received in the mid-‘90s. He was embarrassed by Pinkerton, which took too long to get the love it deserved.
Imagine if they went on that aforementioned prolific streak. Maybe Sharp would have stayed with the band, with a couple songs of his own featured on future Weezer records. It isn’t unheard of, just look at “The Red Album”, which features a song from each member of the band (all were awful, but that topic’s for another day). Cuomo was open to collaborating with Sharp, co-penning “My Head is in the Sun” on The Rentals’ second LP. These are rather optimistic points of view, of course, which probably would have sacrificed some solid songs on future Weezer records in our present-and-very-real reality. What darker events may have transpired if Pinkerton was a hit, gentlemen?
Nick Freed (NF): I feel like Pinkerton‘s excellence does come from Cuomo’s emotional openness. That’s what made him most embarrassed about that album. He stated that it was like someone reading this personal journals over and over again. Had the album been better received upon release, he definitely wouldn’t have been as embarrassed by the lyrical content. I agree, Mike, that the songs pair so well with Blue Album. Those songs you mentioned from that album are an insight into Cuomo’s brains; although not as deep an insight as songs on Pinkerton. It was a shift for both Cuomo and the band toward a heavier, almost angry, sound. I feel like they would’ve kept going that way instead of just dropping any sort of edge and making the abysmal Green Album.
One positive thing that would’ve come would be, hopefully, less of a movement in the screamo world. Bands in that genre do name drop Pinkerton as a heavy influence on them, but with Weezer disappearing for five years, that music went uncheck. Cuomo and company could’ve kept producing emotional, slightly angry music with an upbeat vibe, and bands could’ve followed suit. Would this have influenced Warped Tour into a more dominant, less cringe worthy enterprise? I’m not sure, but I definitely think a post-Pinkerton album that sounded more like Pinkerton could’ve been a much needed lightening up of the emo scene.
As far as Matt Sharp, I think he still would’ve eventually left. I think a post-Pinkerton popularity could’ve spawned a more popular Rentals. Cuomo would’ve kept on his moody track, and Sharp would’ve grown tired of the darkness and wanted something more “My Name is Jonas” or “Surf Wax America”.
MR: What about all the leftover content from the Pinkerton sessions? Songs from the Black Hole? I’d imagine upon the success, Cuomo would have dusted off a few of the demos there for whatever followup they would have aimed for. A part of me feels like they still would have waited awhile to follow up Pinkerton, if only because it was such an emotional experience for Cuomo. However, I’m going to speculate that he wouldn’t have gone the self-titled/colored route, as I feel “The Green Album” was titled and labeled as such to re-direct fans to what, at the time, many considered to be their “glory day.”
Nick, I think the screamo angle fits in with Justin addressing the darker elements to come from Pinkerton’s success. Could you imagine the screamo movement happening earlier? I mean, there’s little to really connect the album’s influence with that scene, save for quotes and comments from various artists, but if it had been directly inspirational… well, the late ’90s might have been a tad different. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Out of all the mainstream releases at the time, Pinkerton comes off looking like a rarity. It’s the one album that didn’t pander to its fans with soggy lyrics and polished sounds.
I guess I just find it hard to find too many negatives with an early success for this LP. Given Weezer’s unfortunate track record post-Pinkerton — and yes, I still love “The Green Album”, Maladroit, and parts of Make Believe, “The Red Album”, Raditude, and Hurley — there’s reason to believe Cuomo shied away from discussing too much of himself and played more of a fictional songwriter. Take the song “Pork and Beans”, for instance. “The Red Album” single is awash in dated references and feels so “in the moment” that it’s pretty useless half a decade later. And yet, any song off Pinkerton rings bright and honest today.
I think any early success would have nixed that, almost proving to Cuomo that true songwriting can exist in a mainstream platform. I guess that’s the real problem, though. Cuomo started in the spotlight and just couldn’t handle not being there, and that showmanship is something that’s, admittedly, plagued their live shows over the last decade.
NF: Yeah that’s what I’m saying…I think. Pinkerton didn’t pander, it was raw, it was rough. We wouldn’t have had, god I hope we wouldn’t have had, bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco writing lyrics that were oh-so-fucking-clever. I definitely agree that it would’ve helped Cuomo cement the idea of a celebrated, true songwriter.
I don’t know that I can find too many negatives, either. I kind of view those post-Pinkerton albums as so incredibly dated. I felt like they were within months of their release. Cuomo became so burned by the Pinkerton release, that he just gave up and started writing hooks under nonsense. Success would’ve helped him avoid that burn out, at least a little I think. Then maybe we could’ve finally seen a damn Weezer live show where the band moved on stage.
JG: I nearly forgot this: With all the imagined-success in a post-Pinkerton universe, Cuomo likely wouldn’t have had time to attend Harvard. Who are we to deny a man his education, imagined or otherwise?!
MR: Not only Harvard, but one has to imagine his marriage wouldn’t have happened so soon, right?
JG: These twists and turns mirror that of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, trading out Lindbergh winning the 1940 election with Cuomo’s marriage and education, of course.
Dan Caffrey (DC): Sorry, guys, coming kind of late to this, so I’ll give my general thoughts as opposed to responses to each different scenario.
Being someone who actually likes Weezer’s post-Pinkerton albums (except Make Believe…woof! But even that has some good tracks), Cuomo has always appealed to me because of his sincerity. As easy as it is to throw rocks at records like “The Green Album” and Raditude, they—along with everything else Weezer has ever recorded—are nothing if not sincere. Cuomo always writes about exactly what he wants to write about.
With that in mind, I propose something that’s hard to imagine. If Pinkerton had been an initial success, we would have gotten to the more positive, mall-cruising vibes of Raditude way earlier than we did. I actually think the Weezer backlash would have started sooner. People rag on “The Green Album”, but from what I remember, it was pretty well received when it came out—sort of the opposite of Pinkerton in that people dug it initially, but now kind of hate it. It feels like “The Red Album” offered some nuggets of hope for old-school fans, and that Raditude was the final nail in the coffin for many of them.
Anyway, what I’m saying is that Cuomo had a lot of anxiety/depression as a result of Pinkerton‘s initial failure. That’s why there was such a long gap before the next record (although five years really doesn’t feel that long anymore). So without any failure to be upset about, he would have been truly happier earlier, and thus, we would have gotten something like Raditude earlier. And so, fans would have hated him earlier. He would have been a younger man then, and perhaps not well equipped to handle such backlash (as Pinkerton proves). Wow, even in a hypothetical sense, it seems like Weezer can’t catch a break, at least as long as Cuomo writes what he wants to write and not what fans want to hear.
JG: The next question is: Would the band still be around now? I think they would have called it a day halfway through the last decade. After releasing an album every couple of years in our alternate reality, the returns would gradually diminish both critically and commercially. These issues would lead to an inevitable dissolution of the band, but more likely due to burning out, not because they grew to hate working together.
Cuomo/Bell/Wilson seem to get along with the understanding that Cuomo is the leader, so “artistic differences” never spring up. Wilson and Bell have had side projects (Space Twin and The Special Goodness, respectively) for their other creative endeavors, and Scott Shriner is, well, Scott Shriner. Funny enough, no matter what alternate version of events we create post-Pinkerton, the exact same number of humans will say the band was never the same when Matt Sharp left. It’s like The Butterfly Effect, only worse (just kidding, nothing is worse than The Butterfly Effect).
So, ultimately, if we’re getting specific, Weezer would have made four more records after Pinkerton and broken up in 2006. They definitely would have won a Best Rock Grammy in 2002 for whatever they put out that year, and Rivers would end up too overwhelmed by a decade-plus of success with no break. He would go on to work with Broadway producers on a stage version of Songs from the Black Hole in 2010.
NF: I could definitely get on board with the band break-up scenario. If one album tanking in the real world was enough to push Cuomo to the brink, then four successful ones would’ve been the same. They break up in 2006. Bell and Wilson move on to more work with their respective bands. Cuomo releases a couple solo works, and reunites with Sharp on a few tracks, much to the delight of us thirtysomething fans. Then the festivals come calling in the early teens, and a Weezer reunion occurs in a headlining slot at Coachella and Lollapalooza. Sharp joins them on stage for the hits, and he and Shriner share bass duties on some new cuts. Shortly after the festivals, they record some new songs for a short EP, then tour mid-range rooms in support (a la Dismemberment Plan).
DC: Black Hole finally seeing the light of day? Maybe things won’t be so bad after all. So are we in agreement that a more initially well-received Pinkerton would have gotten us to Weezer’s career endgame, whatever that may be? It’s weird to think about. Also, would we have still had the Weezer Cruise?
MR: I don’t believe a Weezer Cruise would have happened. Over the last decade, it’s seemingly been Cuomo’s mantra to just get more and more ridiculous, as if that’s always been their thing. I don’t think it has. I feel the clumsy, reckless antics have tarnished what was a respectable and honest outfit. So, I would hope that if Pinkerton found success, they would have eschewed the parody and kept things, at most, tongue-in-cheek. Really, what does this all say about Weezer today?
NF: To me it seems that, after thinking about all of this, looking at those years after Pinkerton with Cuomo’s behavior, etc., the band, or at least Cuomo, have become almost so sardonic and jaded that they’ve moved into a relentlessly upbeat attitude. Cuomo opened his heart to write Pinkerton, and critics shat all over him. It’s as if he took those years to build up such a “fuck ’em all” attitude that these albums have all been as devoid of emotion as possible to counteract that one album that had all the emotion. Cuomo is subconsciously, or consciously, so jaded that to “get back” at the haters he has removed himself from everything, and removed any personal attachment to any of the music.
Now maybe that is a ridiculous assertion, and at this point he is over it (he has started embracing the album somewhat), but with the focus of the albums he does make sense.
JG: Long story short: Everything Cuomo has done post-Pinkerton was in reaction to that 1996 album. Whether consciously or subconsciously, he has reverted back to the glasses-wearing “nerd” persona we all know today. The “safe” persona. That Weezer remains as popular today as they ever were is remarkable, considering their five-year hiatus during which many of their original fans grew up and moved on. If Pinkerton succeeded, it would have been less about the kids and more about the feels, for however they would have lasted.
Strangely enough, I do believe Weezer still records and tours today solely due to the failure of Pinkerton. It just took this exchange between the four of us to wrap my head around it. Long live Blue and Pinkerton, amirite?
DC: I’ll even say long live “The Green Album”, Maladroit, “The Red Album”, and Hurley. And hey, what about Death To False Metal? No one ever talks about that one. Not a bad little collection of songs, even if the album art makes no effing sense. Then again, I think that ties to Cuomo’s M.O. as an artist. He’s flippant, sure. But he’s sincerely flippant, which is easy to be when you’re happy. I think he likes not putting too much stock into things. Caffrey out.
NF: I agree with Justin. I believe their touring today is all in reaction to Pinkerton. Which is sad on one hand, and damn admirable on another. Either way, Dan’s own happy-go-lucky attitude has a soft spot for Cuomo’s happy-go-fuck-yourself attitude. I for one think, save a song here and there, most of the post-Pinkerton output is garbage.
And, back to reality…